Diary of a Rambling Antiquarian

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Liao Superior Capital Revisited

Last August I visited the Liao Superior Capital and two nearby pagodas in Lindong, seat of Bairin Left Banner in Inner Mongolia. I arrived back in Lindong late yesterday afternoon after visiting the Qingzhou White Pagoda in Bairin Right Banner and the Zuzhou Stone House in Bairin Left Banner. I have to catch a train back to Hohhot this evening, so I do not have time to explore far afield, and instead plan to spend some more time exploring some of the places I went to last year. This morning I revisited Lindong North Pagoda, and now I am revisiting the site of the Liao Superior Capital (遼上京遺址).

Site of the Liao Superior Capital

It seems that this season the main archaeological dig has moved to Qiande Gate (乾德門) on the east wall of the capital.

2017 archaeological dig at the East Gate of the Superior Capital

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

During the 2012 season the archaeological team excavated the remains of a Buddhist temple on the western slope of the imperial city. At the site of the temple the foundations for a very large hexagonal pagoda with small hexagonal stupas on either side were discovered, and the remains of a number of clay Buddhist statues were unearthed. There was a small exhibit on the 2012 excavation at the Inner Mongolia Museum in Hohhot when I visited there four days ago.

Foundations for three hexagonal pagodas excavated in 2012

Source: Exhibition at the Inner Mongolia Museum

The size of the large pagoda can be gauged from the vehicles in the top left of the photo

Flying apsara pagoda sculpture discovered in 2012

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

This piece is very similar to the flying apsara sculptures on the Lindong South Pagoda

Base for a dharani pillar unearthed in 2012

Source: Exhibition at the Inner Mongolia Museum

Clay Buddhist statues unearthed in 2012

Source: Exhibition at the Inner Mongolia Museum

Head of a clay statue unearthed in 2012

Source: 2012年度全国十大考古新发现出炉

Last year I forgot to take any good pictures of the rammed earth walls that enclose the site, so here is a photo of the east side of a cutting in the south wall (which separates the main city from the Chinese city to the south). This is one of two cuttings in the south wall, one of which is the Dashun Gate (大順門), but I am not sure which one.

Cutting in the South Wall of the Superior Capital

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Detail of rammed earth in the cutting in the South Wall

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Three stone turtle stele bases are known from the site of the Superior Capital. The one shown below is situated in the south of the main city, near the site of Dashun Gate (大順門). Apparently there is also a turtle stele base with a head in the Shali River that separates the main city from the Chinese city to the south, but I did not see it. There was also another headless turtle stele base on the northwest platform of the main city (Palace of the Sun and Moon 日月宫), but some time after 1949 a local stone mason split it into pieces and took it away to use elsewhere. It is said that in the 1930s an inscribed stele associated with the turtle stele base on the northwest platform was sent to the warlord Tang Yulin in Chengde, but it is not known where it is now. In 1966 two slabs of a stele inscribed with Khitan Large Script were discovered in the homes of two workers at Xiaoxinzhuang village (小辛莊), which is on the site of the Chinese city. They were using the stones to press pickles in a pot. It is thought that these Khitan fragments may have come from the stele that stood on the turtle base shown in the above photograph.

Stone turtle stele base with no head

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Rubbings of stele fragments from the Superior Capital inscribed with Khitan Large Script

The two large pieces in the middle are the pickle-pressing slabs

From the turtle I can see in the not-too-far distance a tall red object standing up from the empty expanse of the site, and when I get closer I find that it is a stone statue of Guanyin wearing a red cloak, surrounded by an army of a thousand small porcelain Guanyin statues. This is a replica of a Liao dynasty statue which stood here for a thousand years until ten years ago. The original statue was at least 4.7 m tall, and stood in the grounds of one of the many Buddhist temples in the Liao capital, perhaps the Tianxiong Temple (天雄寺). By the second half of the 20th century the statue was in a bad condition, and had lost its head. An earthquake in 2003 further enlarged the cracks in the statue, and so in 2007 the statue was removed to the Liao Shangjing Museum for safekeeping, and this replica statue was erected in its place. The replica statue is the same size as the original, and the missing head has been reconstructed based on early 20th-century Japanese photographs. A couple of worshippers explained to me that the red cloak deliberately hid the body of the statue as it was too sacred to be openly regarded.

Replica of a Liao dynasty statue of Guanyin

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Original Guanyin statue in situ

(photograph at the Liao Shangjing Museum stone carvings exhibition)

Two hours later, when I am at the Stone Carvings Exhibition behind the back of the Liao Shangjing Museum, I catch a glimpse of the original Guanyin statue in a closed hall of the museum, perhaps being prepared for public display.

Original Guanyin statue in the Liao Shangjing Museum

From Guanyin I can see a red flag waving near the south wall, s short distance away. I assume that this is another site of archaeological excavation, so I wander across to take a look, but much to my surprise it turns out to be a half-dressed yurt. The flag indicates that it is being used as a set for filming a Chinese television drama called Mèngyíng Dàliáo 夢縈大遼) "Haunted by the Great Liao". However, there is no sign of any film crew or cast here today, or any other abandoned props.

Yurt used as a film set

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

On the way back north I pass two halves of a broken millstone lying in the grass away from the main path. I later learn that in addition to this broken millstone, a stone mortar and several stone column bases may also be found lying about the site.

Millstone broken into two halves
{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Liao Shangjing Museum

On the way back to my hotel I drop in at the Liao Shangjing Museum to see if I missed anything last time I was here. There does not seem to be anything new that I have not already seen, but here are some photos of a few interesting objects anyway.

Pottery seal with supposed Khitan inscription

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Found in the Chinese city of the Superior Capital in 1975

Liao dynasty bronze official seal

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Found in the vicinity of the Liao Shangjing site.

Chinese inscription 臨潢府軍器庫之印 "Seal of the Armoury of Linhuang Prefecture" (Linhuang was the prefecture where the Superior Capital was located)

Silver palace coin with inscription in Khitan Large Script

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Found west of the Imperial City at the Superior Capital in 1977

Four Khitan Large Script characters  interpreted as meaning 天朝萬順 "Heavenly Dynasty — Myriad [affairs are] Favourable"

Khitan Large Script characters scratched onto the reverse of the above coin

Western Xia coin with Tangut inscription found in the Liao Superior Capital

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Found in the Chinese city of the Superior Capital in 1972

Precious coin of the Da'an era [1076–1085] 𘜶𗵐𘏨𘔭 (= Da'an Baoqian 大安寶錢).

Liao dynasty wooden burial chamber

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Liao dynasty wooden burial chamber from a robbed aristocratic grave excavated in 2005 in a valley north-east of the Superior Capital.

Twice I have visited the museum and twice I have failed to notice that according to the information board next to the burial chamber there is an ink inscription in Khitan Large Script on the inner back wall, so I may have to visit here a third time.


Historical sites | Inner Mongolia | Khitan | Liao dynasty | Museums

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